What I remember most about basic training wasn't the forced night march; it wasn't learning to fire a weapon, nor was it learning combat skills. Believe it or not, what I remember most was trying to remember my name. It may sound corny, but it's true. At times it was embarrassing and at other times it was amusing.
Here's my story. In July of 1963 I turned 18 and volunteered to join the Army. Little did I know that I would spend the next 12 months with an assumed name. When I reported to the Military Entrance Processing Station on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, I was taken aside and told I needed to sign some paperwork. The name on my enlistment papers did not match the name on my birth certificate. My family's surname is spelled "Giorgio," but the name on my birth certificate was spelled "George." I signed the new documents, not realizing it would cause such turmoil, especially in basic training.
Not only was my life about to be transformed from a civilian into a soldier that followed orders, but I had to adjust to a new name overnight. As you know, in the service everyone calls you by your last name, and for someone to call out George just didn't register in my mind.
It wasn't pretty, especially during basic, when most of us younger guys wanted to prove ourselves and to show that we were strong and resilient to the rigorous training. In addition to adjusting to the discipline, I had difficulty adjusting to my new name. Not only was it confusing to others, but it was embarrassing to me.
On a daily basis I felt like a dunce. As an example, during mail call when my name George was called and I didn't respond, it wasn't uncommon for a fellow recruit to nudge me and tell me I had mail. I can't recall how many times I was humiliated because the drill instructor would call out "George" and I didn't answer. Besides a lot of other names and choice words, I was called by the DI a dumb SOB that didn't know my own f------ name.
Maybe I was too embarrassed, but for some reason I wasn't willing to explain to everyone my confusion because it happened so often. Nevertheless, I eventually adjusted to my new name, and a year later I had it corrected.
I have no regrets of my time in the Army, and after three years of active duty, I eventually spent an additional 30 years in the reserves. I can look back at my time in the military, share with others my experience in basic training and get a few laughs.